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This past October (2022) I was at Multiversecon. I am the PLAY track director for MVC and one of my duties was running the Chuck Tingle RPG for some guests. It was absolutely a performative experience where we were exposing (pun intended) the convention audience to the Tingleverse and its crass and colorful backdrop.
What is Chuck Tingle? An author who has created a colorful fantasy world where they write their crazy sexual dinosaur stories. It is full of parody. Chuck Tingle has a great following among the geek trade and published an RPG to go along with their novels.
I will talk a little about the game itself and a bit about the role performance plays in some RPG sessions.
The system is pulled from the D20/3.5 D&D but there is no OGL and to my knowledge no copyright was injured in the making of this game. There are some interesting tweaks provided in the text that make the system less cluttered, but the combat system feels a little like THAC0. You still have 3 saves and the Nine Alignments (I should write a book with that as the title), though there may be a more performative aspect to the game. In fact, everything about the CTRPG has a level of performative action to it.
CTRPG is a class and level-based system. Players earn experience as a group for completing quests and individual steps in that quest line. Defeating the rhino who is hoarding condoms in Idaho is worth experience points, as is defeating any traps, puzzles, and or henchmen the rhino puts in your way. Players take on the role of humans, bigfeet, raptors, and unicorns, called type. Their trot is their profession or class, and these are: Bad Boy, Charmer, Sneak, True Buckaroo, and Wizard.
Other than array of groan-inducing monsters, there is not much in the way of situational prep provided as guidelines. Everything provided is basic, though the background and setting are engaging and perhaps just the right amount. I am not sure the thematic intent and the system match up very well and there is not much game here. For instance, there is not much consequence to failure. A system with high failure that had (at least) narrative consequences built in would this setting more justice. To get game out of this syetm requires a little work, which may be rewarding for fans of Tingle.
Session: Very Bad Muse
For the session, which ran about 90 minutes, we had 4 players: A Terror Bird (Raptor), an actual Raptor, a Bigfeet, and a Unicorn. They walked into the bingo hall of St. Rapterine in Billings, MT USA. In the hall, were some Catholics were playing bingo, the group over heard a small man named Trodo and his potato friend Sam talking about the bad editor person who stole Trodo’s novellas. The team negotiated to retrieve the work, taking $50 US each up front, except the Unicorn, who performed degrading sexual acts on the potato.
As an aside, everything was consensual in and out of fiction. The players knew they could ask me to ease up if anything made them uncomfortable, though I did tell the audience coming through the door implied consent. And it was refreshing to be vulgar in a consensual situation, where normally we avoid too much detail.
After an incident with a snake in the road (inspired by the poisonous macho game from Flash Gordon), the team arrives in Canada at the dungeon of the Bad Muse. There is another potato*, the Muse (editor) is a dominatrix. Some fighting breaks out and the situation is resolved.
Performative Play (?)
There is no question that this was entertainment for members of the convention. Experienced rpg folk, including myself, took the Tingle system and used it to entertain the audience. Were there moments of genuine play? Yes, I think so. The way the unicorn engaged with the various potato NPCs comes to mind. The player reacted in the fiction to the one potato, and this informed the unicorn’s subsequent potato fetish. The bigfeet player, who is Trans, played a Trans bigfeet, whose Unique Way was fetishism of Trans people. And who in character referred to “their player” and the circular meta turned out to be the exact way to play CTRPG. Tongue firmly in cheek, with a 4th wall breaking wink to the audience, whether real or imagined. The raptor players had their moments as well.
A couple lessons here. An RPG can exist within a variety of constraints that do not always feel constraining. If we see a narrow band of proper RPG / social behavior, CTRPG must live outside of this. To have a run-of-the mill quest would be missing the entire point of the game. If you are not making sexual innuendo, there is not much point for using this text.
But titillation is not play. Not knowing where the players and their characters are going to end up is not the same thing as bounce. They may not bounce of off anything and just go about their merry way avoiding the situation entirely. That these players did not speaks well of them as people who did not want to derail what I had planned (I did not have much planned). If there had been no audience, I do think the play would have been different in some ways. Which brings up the idea in my head, what would a game look like if designed with the audience factor in mind from the ground up?
My prep for this game was minimal. Three lines in fact.
- Trodo and Sam the Potatop
- St. Rapterine / Bingo Hall
- Muse = Evil literary editor / Dominatrix
I also knew I wanted to have the challenge scene from Flash Gordon in there, but that was in my head not in my notes.
*Potato is an in-joke for Multiversecon.
4 responses to “Are You Tingling? at Multiversecon”
Quick clarification inquiries
From your description of three bullet-point preparation, I am pretty sure that you were not working off a typical published introductory scenario or supplemental material. Is that right?
Related to that, does the game text provide any such content? Either specifically (starting scenario, story seeds, et cetera) or generally (how to GM this game, your first scenario, et cetera). If so, what is it like?
The net effect of players who don't want to derail what you have planned + you not actually planning outcomes or stories is well worth investigating. In my experience this situation – often encountered at conventions – goes one of three ways.*
To arrive at the second bullet/possibility, we're talking about agency in the sense that I am very careful to define it here and in the courses, and so you are right on target regarding bounce, as an effect of using the system … for which D20/3.5 is notably deficient.
* Obligatory Tingle-style snuffle-chuckling goes here, sorry, no way to avoid that.
From your description of
Correct. There are supplements but I did not look for them. I did look to see if there were any pre-generated characters but did not find any so I made the pre-gens for the game itself, based off input from the players.
The game provides a few, small chapters on the setting, which is prefaced by a small chapter on what might happen in a game of CTRPG. The former feels about right to me; there is just enough Tingle in those chapters to give a feel for this strange world you are about to enter. The latter is bare minimum for figuring out what to do in the game.
But there is no starting scenario or extensive examples of how to play. There is not even a table of contents, though there is an index of cool moves in the middle of the book. The book is presented as speaking to the players, mostly, and while it references the TM (Tingle Master), there is little direct, 2nd person acknowledgement of the TM. i.e. you the TM… at least from what I have seen. No actionable TM section exists.
As for your bullet points, it was a mix of 2 and 3. At least it seemed to me. As mentioned, there was a heavy dose of performance going on, which may have been the motive for some of the characters taking the situation in different directions than one might expect. But there were one or two moments when the players took what was given and some authentic play occurred. But that was born out of the situation, not out of the system’s procedures. One thing that was in play the entire game was a heavy dose of reincorporation.
Sea Dracula does this. Some players are (animal) lawyers prosecuting or defending a case and audience members are called to the stand. I played it at a convention years ago. As far as I recall the fiction was a thin veneer, essentially an excuse to pose and shout and say funny things, and, of course, dance–how else would Animal City resolve legal disputes?
I want to avoid getting taxonomic but once we get into performative play and audience participation we're not far off from theatre sports/improv exercises.
I want to avoid getting
In this specific case, it was theatre. I have dabbled with ideas where the audience acts as a chorus, reacting to play in such a way that the characters (PC and NPC) might incorporate their feedback. Interesting hypothesis, but nothing I have tinkered with thus far has solved some basic problems I see with the idea.